World Building in Fiction

World building is a complex element to fiction writing and if you’re new to it just remember the key word right there in the title – building.

We build. We start small and we build something big. Something enormous sometimes – in tone, in breadth, in detail, in realism, in wonder and magic.

But how does a writer actually world-build and balance plot, character and action?

Here’s one way to do it:

Stick Your World Building Detail to a Character (or Plot)

By that we don’t mean reduce your character to a walking encyclopaedia but to align world building detail, detail that expands your world for the reader, to your Point of View character.

As an example, you may have a deadly plant species (let’s call it ‘moonshade’) that the reader needs to understand for maximum tension in a particular scene. If your POV character is a simple solider, he or she may not focus on the plant beyond knowing that ‘moonshade’ is dangerous because the petals are poison to touch.

Upon seeing it, your soldier may not consider the root words for ‘moonshade’ nor the plant’s regular living conditions nor the speed with which it kills or the exact properties of a cure. And if you as the writer unload all that information onto the reader at that point, your world-building is going to feel ham-fisted.

However – let’s change your simple soldier to a botanist. Or even a botanist-soldier.

Now maybe your POV character would notice such details. The world building detail sticks to the character. The botanist-soldier would naturally be aware of and consider the properties of the moonshade plant and know exactly why it would be unusual to see one blooming in the middle of the day, and understand that something is amiss. They’d know the antidote and they’d take a mental inventory, just in case another character in the story was poisoned.

(And of course, at that point, you have to poison the botanist instead, so they can’t share the antidote right away – and now you’re also sticking the detail to Plot and raising tension too.)

More on world building in a future post!


Reading Aloud

Some of the best advice is truly simple.

Read your work aloud.

This is classic, and a great technique for hearing the rhythm and flow of your sentences. It can also help you pick up repeated words or identify places where you’ve missed a word or a typo has crept through.

But there’s only one problem with this method – since you, the author, are reading the work, you may sometimes read what you intended, as opposed to what you wrote.

And so typos may slip through, missing letters or words too.

The easiest way around this is to have someone else read the work aloud – and the more unfamiliar the voice, the better. Some authors use their Kindle for this, others a variety of apps and Adobe Acrobat also has this feature for PDFs.

Obviously the voice that reads your MS will not sound truly human, but it will read exactly what has been written, allowing you to catch errors you might usually miss.

Jake Kerr on ‘The Art of Revision’

Very simply, this is one of the best articles we’ve seen on revision.

Jake Kerr on Revision:

Revision requires you to recognize a gap between what you intended and what you achieved. Closing that gap is pretty much the definition of revision. But if you recognized that gap initially, you wouldn’t have made the mistake, so I call these gaps “blind spots.” Blind spots are different than grammatical ignorance or oversight (such as using a colon wrong). Blind spots are things like weaving in a sub-plot that powers an entire character arc but that actually doesn’t exist on the page–only in your head.

My biggest personal blind spot is not being clear enough in outlining character motivation. Critique partners will often say, “I don’t understand why that happened” or “I don’t know why she did that.” Thus one of the first things I do in revision is go through and make sure all the pieces of the narrative are clearly communicated. It’s so basic, but it is something I miss all the time.